Britain Re-opens Embassy in Somalia

British Foreign Secretary William Hague flew to Mogadishu on Thursday to re-open the British Embassy -- making his country the first Western nation to resume a permanent diplomatic presence in Somalia in 22 years.

The British Embassy in central Mogadishu was forced to shut its doors in 1991 after Mohamed Siad Barre's government collapsed and Somalia plunged into chronic civil war.

Twenty-two years later, British diplomats are planning a return to Mogadishu. Foreign Secretary William Hague attended a flag-raising ceremony at the site of a new embassy Thursday.

"I said we would open an embassy as soon as the security situation permitted it," Hague said. "So it is a sign of confidence in the future that we are opening it."

The reopening follows major strides made by African Union forces in securing the capital city from al-Shabab militants. But the peace is tenuous. Just last week al-Shabab attacked a Mogadishu courthouse, killing or wounding dozens of people.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague (right) shakes hands with Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at the opening of the newly built British Embassy in the Somali capital Mogadishu on April 25, 2013. /AP British Foreign Secretary William Hague (right) shakes hands with Somali President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, at the opening of the newly built British Embassy in the Somali capital Mogadishu on April 25, 2013. /AP

The new embassy sits in the airport compound behind mortar-proof sandbags and heavily guarded by African Union troops. Hague expects this location to be temporary. "I hope over time this will be an embassy that is able to move into the city itself," he said.
 
Matt Baugh, the first British ambassador to Somalia in 21 years, was appointed last February but has been based in neighboring Kenya.

The Foreign Office is expected to soon announce a new ambassador to take up post in Mogadishu when the embassy becomes fully operational in late July.

Other nations are expected to follow the British Embassy's move from Nairobi to Mogadishu. Turkey, Iran, and Ethiopia have already reopened their embassies in the Somali capital.

On May 7, London will host its second international conference to coordinate the stabilization of Somalia. Prime Minister David Cameron has prioritized Somalia in his role as president of the G8.

VOA News / Apr. 26, 2013 08:11 KST